WINTER BRINGS REPTILE QUESTIONS

by Whit Gibbons

January 17, 2016

Most questions I get about reptiles are in the warmer months. But a few come in winter, including these received last month.

Q: I am a real estate agent who has a client concerned about a property in Naples, Florida. It has a retaining wall on the bayside that rises about 6 to 8 feet above the water level. Could an alligator jump up onto the wall and then go after a dog?

A: Alligators cannot jump over high fences, but I have seen alligators up to 6 feet long climb over both chicken wire and chain-link fences by using their toes to grasp the mesh. I'm not sure how high they could climb to get over a fence in that manner but certainly several feet. But for one to actually jump over a solid wall would be unlikely behavior. If the wall had footholds of some sort, an alligator might give it a try if a dog were on the other side. They will go after a dog when given an opportunity, but I have never heard of one jumping over a high wall.

Q: Could I possibly have seen some kind of gecko in downtown Charleston on a warm evening this winter? It was on a wall near a porch light.

A: Yes, geckos are lizards now found commonly in Charleston and many urban areas in all coastal states from Virginia to Texas. The most likely kind is the non-native Mediterranean gecko. The species was introduced into Florida in 1910 and has now spread, through human transport, to many regions of the country. The only native species of gecko in the eastern United States is the Florida reef gecko, which is restricted to the Florida Keys.

Mediterranean geckos are inoffensive little creatures that are completely harmless to humans. Although their native range is from southern Europe to India, they are not known to cause problems to our environment or for any native lizard or other animal. They thrive mostly around houses, warehouses and other buildings where they can go inside to stay warm and where most native wildlife has already been eliminated. They typically come out at night when it is not cold. My prediction is that small colonies of Mediterranean geckos will eventually turn up and persist in most if not all southern cities.

Q: We live in Dallas/Fort Worth and found a green anole in the freezing cold and ice yesterday lying on a stepping stone. I thought it was dead, but when I walked over to it again later that day, I saw its mouth slowly open. It was very weak. I took it home, and we made a little habitat for it in a container with leaves and a tray of water. It's now green again and seems to be improving, but it has not tried to move much. How can we tell if it's OK? While it's at home, we have it under a kitchen light to warm it up. Where should we release it? Should we wait until it warms up and guide it to some leaves to hibernate?

A: It sounds like you have done as much as possible for this particular anole. Probably the best thing to do now is to take it outside during the warmest part of the day and put it under leaves or vegetation in an area that will get sun. Putting it close to the house on the south side might be a good idea as it will be a few degrees warmer. However, green anoles do make it through the winter by staying under leaves, bark or other natural cover.

A fun exercise is to use a colored felt-tip marking pen to put a small mark on its body that will last for several days or weeks. That way, should it turn up again, you will recognize it as the same one. Good luck, and I hope you see him in the spring.

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